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An anthology of source texts

This is a select anthology of historical writings about the Gaelic harp traditions of Scotland and Ireland.

I have tried to include as many texts as I can that say something about the harp traditions. I have omitted texts that simply mention the harp without telling us anything about it, and texts that are brief lists or accounts payments to harpers. I have been careful when choosing texts that use the harp to describe someting else - I want to include only items that tell us something new about the harp.

In the late 1700s we start getting book-length studies of the Gaelic harp traditions, so I am only going to quote selected excerpts.

Hopefully this page will give you most of the historical information there is about the harp traditions in general.

If you think there is something important I have missed, please let me know. I hope to add more texts and more translations in time.

Pre 1500

In musicis solum instrumentis commendabilem invenio gentis istius diligentiam. In quibus, prae omni natione quam vidimus, incomparabiliter instructa est. Non enim in his, sicut in Britannicis quibus assueti sumus instrumentis, tarda et morosa est modulatio, verum velox et praeceps, suavis tamen et jocunda sonoritas. Mirum quod, in tanta tam praecipiti digitorum rapacitate, musica servatur proportio; et arte per omnia indemni inter crispatos modulos, organaque multipliciter intricata, tam suavi velocitate, tam dispari paritate, tam discordi concordia, consona redditur et completur melodia. Seu diatessaron, seu diapente corde concrepent, semper tamen a b molli incipiund et in idem redeunt, ut cuncta sub iocunde sonoritatis dulcedine compleantur. Tam subtiliter modulos intrant et exeunt, sicque sub obtuso grossioris corde sonitu gratilium tinnitus licentius ludunt. Latentius delecttant, lasciviusque demulcent, ut pars artis maxima videatur artem velare. Tanquam si lateat prosit ferat ars deprensa pudorem. Hinc accidit ut ea que subtilius intuentibus et artis archana acute discernentibus internas et ineffabiles comparant animi delitias; ea non attendentibus sed quasi videndo non videntibus, et audiendo non intelligentibus; aures potius honerent quam delectent, et tanquam confuso inordinatoque strepitu invitis auditoribus fastidia pariant tediosa.
Nota de instrumentis Hybernie, Wallie et Scotie.
Notandum vero quod Scotia et Wallia hec propagationis illa commeationis et affinitas gratia, Hybernam in modulis emula imitari nituntur disciplina. Hybernia quidem tantum duobus utitur et delectatur instrumentis, cithara scilicet et timpano. Scotia tribus, cithara, timpano et choro. Wallia vero, cithara, tibiis et choro. Eneis quoque utuntur chordis, non de corio factis. Multorum autem opinione hodie Scotia non tantum magistram equiparavit Hyberniam...

Giraldus Cambrensis, Topographia Hiberniae, c.1185 1

Tabhraidh chugam cruit mo ríogh
go dtréiginn uirre mh’imshníomh
a bhrón dá bhoing do dhuine
re glór an chroinn chumhruidhe

An té gá raibhe an crann ciúil
giolle saor go seinm dtaidhiúir
mór bhfáth-rann do ghabh go grinn
ris an mbláth-chrann nglan nguith-bhinn

Mór séad áluinn do fhodhail
ar cúl an chroinn tslabhrodhaigh
minic do bhronn cradh ó gCoinn
s a chorr ghlan ré a ghualoinn

...

Bring to me the harp of my king, so I can forget my grief; the sadness of man is soon banished, by the sound of that sweet wood.
He who owned this harp was a noble, talented youth; Many inspired songs he sweetly sung, with that elegant sweet instrument.
Many splendid gifts, he gave out, from behind the harp; he gave out the spoils of the descendents of Conn with the curve of the harp at his shoulder.

Muireadhach Albanach / Giolla Brighde Albanach, Tabhraidh chugam cruit mo riogh, early 13th c.2

1500-1600

Pendant ce tamps vint, devers monseigneur, en son bateau, ung josne homme saulvaige, bertaudé, tondé et embastonné, comme les aultres sont; et estoit cestuy serviteur à ung seigneur du pays, et de luy fort aymé, pour les gentillesses et propriétés qui en luy estoient. Et estoit là venu pour faire quelque récréation à mondict seigneur, avant son partement, aveucq un harpe que son serviteur luy portoit. De laquelle ce sauvaige en jouoit fort bien gorgiasement et se chantoit quant et quant. Je demanday à ce trucheman, quelle chose cestuy chantoit. Il me dict que c'estoit une bien dévote et piteuse chausson, sur le mist¸re de la passion de nostre Saulveur Jésu-Crist

Laurent Vital, Premier Voyage de Charles-Quint en Espagne, 1517 - 15183

Nowe comes the rymer that made the Ryme with is Rakry the Rakry is he that shall vtter the ryme and the Rymer him selfe sittes by with the captin verie proudlye/ He bringes with him also his harper; who please all the while that the Raker singes the Ryme/ also he hath is barde which is a kind of folise fellowe/ who also must haue a horse geuen him/ the harpere must have anewe saferne shurte and a mantell and a haccnaye/ and harnes with anage to ridde one a siluere goblett apere of bedes of curale with buttens of siluere...

Thomas Smyth, Information for Ireland, 1561.4

...a set feast, which they call, coshering, whereunto flocke all theyr retayners, whom they name followers, their rithmoues, their bardes, theyr harpers that feede them with musicke, and when the harper twangeth or singeth a song, all the company must be whist, or else he chafeth like a cutpurse, by reason his harmony is not had in better price.

Richard Stanihurst, A Playne and perfect description of Irelande, 1577.5

Harpa venuta à noi d’Irlande.
...su portato d’Irlanda à noi questo antichissimo strumento (commemorato da Dante) doue si lauorano in eccellenza & copiosaméte: gli habitatori della quale isola si esercitano molti & molti secolio sono in essa, oltre all’essere impresa particolare del regno; la quale dipingano & sculpiscono negli edifizii pubblici, & nelle monete loro; adducendo per cagione di ciò, esset discesi dal Regio Profeta Dauid. Sono le Harpe che vsano i detti popoli, maggiote assai delle nostre ordinarie; & hanno communemente le corde d’ottone, & alcune poche d’acciaio nella parte acuta à guisa del Grauicembalo; i sonatori della quali costumano portare le ugne di ambedue le mani assai lunghe, acconciandosele artifitiosamente nella manicera che fi vedono le penne ne saltarelli che dello spinette le corde percuoteno; & il numero di esse è cinquantaquattro, cinquantasei, & sino in sellanta...la distributtione delle corde della quale harpa, hebbi à mesi passati (per mezzo d’un getilissmo Signore d’Irlanda) & dopo hauerla diligentemente essaminata, trouo esser l’istessa du quella che da pochi anni indietto, si è doppia di corde introdotta in Italia:

Vincenzo Galilei, Dialogo della Musica Antica et della Moderna, 1581 6

Now when their gutts be full, then comes the pastyme in:
The Barde and Harper mellodie, unto them doe beginne.
This Barde he doeth report, the noble conquestes done,
And eke in Rimes shewes forthe at large, their glorie thereby wonne.

...Both Barde, and Harper, is preparde, which by their cunning art,
Doe strike and cheare up all the gestes, with comfort at the hart.

John Derrick, The Image of Ireland London, 1581 7

Loco tubæ tibia utuntur utricubri. Musica maxime delectantur, sed sui generis fidibus; quarum aliis chordæ sunt æneæ, aliis e nervis factæ, quas vel unguibus prælongis, vel plectris, pulsant. Unica autem illis ambitio est, ut fides multo argento exornet & gemmis. Tenulores progemmis crystallum adhibent. Accinunt autem carmen non inconcinne factum, quod fere laudes forrium virorum contineat: nec aliud fere argumentum eorum Bardi tractant. Vetere Gallorum sermone pallum mutato utuntur.

George Buchanan, Rerum Scoticarum Historia, 1582 8

Inter cenadum adest citharista, oculis saepe captus, musicis minime eruditus qui chordarum pulsu (sunt autem ex ferreis aut æneis filis non ex nervis ut alibi fit, contextæ) animos accumbentium relaxat. Non plectro aliquo, sed adunctis unguibus sonum elicit. Atque licet in musicis neque numeros expleat, neque modum, aut sonorum accentum observet (siquidem teretes scientis aures perinde ac sarræ stridor, facile offendit: ita omni ordini obstrepit) tamen vulgus hominum rudi eius harmonia unice delectatur. Quod si aures tuas, pulsis filis, peregrinari intelligat, aut si hominis laudem, villa ex parte, minuas, furere quidam & tamquam rabiosulus, bacchari videbitur. Nam ut illius cognitionem ore laudes pleniore, non modo petit, verum etiam exigit. Vivit, hac nostra ætate, Crusus, ad lyram, post hominum memoriam quam maxime insignis, is ab illo incondito strepitu, qui incontentis, secumque discordasntibus fidibus fit, plurimum abhorret: contraque eo modorum ordine, sonorum compositione, musicum observat concentum, quo auditorum aures mirabiliter ferit, ut eum citius solum quam summum citharistam iudicares. Ex quo intelligi potest, non musicis lyram, sed lyræ musicos hactenus defuisse.

Richard Stanihurst, De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis, Antwerp, 1584 9

In place of a drum, they use an bag-pype. They delight much in musicke, but upon Harpes, & Clairschoes, of their owne fashion. The strings of the Clairschoes are made of brasse wyar, and the strings of the Harpes of sinewes; which strings they stryke either with their nayles, growing long, or else with an instrument appointed for that use. They take great pleasure to deck the Harpes and Clairschoes, with silver and precious stones; and poor ones, that cannot attaine hereunto, decke them with Christall. They sing verses prettilie compound, containing (for the most part) prayses of valiaunt men. There is not almost anie other argument, whereof their rymes entreat. They speake the ancient French language, altered a little.

John Monipennie, Certaine matters composed together, Edinburgh [1594] 10

but most of all, earlie in the morning as the day begins to dawne, when al is under great silence, and every thing quiet and at rest, then to heare the pleasant harmonie of Musicall Instruments cunninglie handeled, as of Cornets, or fine Violls: Or to heare the sweet and delicat voices of cunning singers, intermedled with the melodious sound of Lutes, Cisters, Clairshoes, or of other quiet Instruments of that kinde: which I esteeme worthie to be reckoned among the chiefest of earthly pleasures.

Alexander Hume, A treatise of the felicitie, Edinburgh, 1594 11

1600-1650

...Musica inprimis delectantur, cithraque maxime chordis æneis quas aduncis unguibus numerose pulsant.

...they delight primarily in music, most of all in the harp with brass strings, which they strike with the fingernails.

William Camden, Britannia, London 1607. 12

Understanding... that you were desirous of a good Irish harp, I made trial for the obtaining of an old one - for that they report the oldest best - but finding none to my liking, caused a new one to be made, which, if it prove as good in sound as it is fair in show, I shall commend it to your kind acceptance. The masters of the art give hopes of the well-proving thereof, and if the ceremony of the raising thereof had not been observed, it had been presented unto before michaelmas. I caused the same to be put into a stout case to preserve it from breaking.

Letter from John Denham to Sir Michael Hickes, 7th Feb 1612 13

3. Irrlendische Harff / Harpa Irlandica, derer Structur und Form / in der Sciograph. Col. XVIII zu finden / hat ziemlich grobe dicke Messinges Saitten / an der zahl 43. und einen aus der massen lieblichen Resonantz.

The Irish harp, (whose design and shape you can find in the Sciographia, plate 18), has 43 very coarse thick brass strings, and an unusually lovely resonance

Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, 1619 14

I lent my new harp to Wm Barry the blynde harper to raise

The Diary of Sir Richard Boyle, 1620 15

....qui si praestitisses historicam fidem, fides nunquam ferreas, sed aeneas, vel argentas lyrae, et tympano a musicis nostris aptari, tradisses Illi lyram summis digitis, tympanum plectris pulsant & utroque instrumentis iuxta unanime bene sentientium iudicitum ita excellunt, et non unus apud eos Crusus, sed quam plurimi numerosa harmoniæ dulcedine audientium animos mirifice permulceant. Crusum quidem cæcum, & Dionysii Obrienis Fornoniæ comitis lomnaehæ principis musicum fuisse, accepi. Eius ætati rippar fuit Cormakus Mac Diarmuda genere quidem Ibernus, sed Anglicis modulis clarissimus, qui tam oculis, quam lyra præstans, Elizabethæ reginæ, & Iacobi regis Angliæ animos lyra recreabat. Ætate nostra Nicolaus cognoment cæcus lyricorum princeps, longe suauissimus extitit. Nuisius Oduoennanus musicus proauorum nostrum tempore musicorum lyricorum prodigium.

If you were honest, you would tell that harp and timpan in Ireland are not instruments strung with iron, but with brass and silver. The musicians strike the harp with the fingers, the timpan with a plectrum. And on both instruments, those who understand agree, the Irish harpists excel; not only Cruise, but many, are among those who delight their listeners. Cruise was blind, as was the harper to Dennis O’ Brien, 4th Earl of Thomond. In his time, Cormack MacDermott was Irish, but was famous for English music. He was sighted, excellent at playing the harp, and performed for Queen Elizabeth and for King James of England. In our time, Nicholas Dall is the prince of poets. Nuisius O’Duoennanus was a prodigious harpist in the time of our grandfathers.

Philip O’Sullivan Beare, Zoilomastix, c.1625 16

146. An Irish harp hath open air on both sides of the strings: and it hath the concave or belly not along the strings, but at the end of the strings. It maketh a more resounding sound than a bandora, orpharion, or cittern, which have likewise wire-strings...

223. ...and no instrument hath the sound so melting and prolonged as the Irish harp...

278. ...some consorts of instruments are sweeter than others (a thing not sufficiently yet observed): as the Irish harp and the base viol agree well; the recorder and stringed music agree well; organs and the voice agree well. &c; but the virginals and the lute, or the Welsh harp and Irish harp, or the voice and pipes alone, agree not so well.

Frances Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum, 1627 17


...

Fuaras ó Mhac Mic an Daill
Cláirseach allánach álainn,
Seoid bhuan bhreac-lonach bhurdhe,
Ealtonach nuadh neamhdhaidhe.

A comhmaith do chruit sheanma
Ni fhuair triath ná tigherna
Móir-thréadach cean is creach
An bhean óir-théadach áiseach.

...

Fuair corr a cnuas-choill i nAoi
Is lámh-chrann i Lios Seantraoi
Breastach mhaoth-lonn na gcleas gcorr
Is caomh-chom óEas Éagonn.

Fuair Mac Sithdhuill dá suidheacht
Fuair Cathal dá ceardaidheacht
Is fuair Beannghlan, mór an modh,
A ceangladh d’ór ’s a hionnlodh.

...

I got from Eamonn MacDonald, a beautiful, well-made harp, a timeless gem, dappled red and yellow, harmonious, heavenly

An equally good harp for playing was not obtained by leader or lord of great herds, obtained by fair means or foul, the useful, gold-strung lady

Its neck was found in the beautiful woods of Magh nAoidh, Roscommon; its pillar comes from Lios Seantroi; the lively lovely, shapely instrument! Its beautiful soundbox from the mouth of the River Erne in Donegal.

Mac Sithdhuill did its design, Cathal did its construction, & Beannghlan (great honour to him) its gold bindings and its inlay.

Piarais Feiritéir, Mochean d’altrom an oirbheirt, 2nd qtr. 17th c. 18

Your Irish harper shall be welcome if he can play by the book after the English manner and speak good English.

Letter from James, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, to Frances Lloyd, 1638 19

Il faut encore scavoir qu’il y a deux sortes des harpes: les unes sont irlandaises et les autre francaises; celles d’Irlande plus sont grossièrement travaillées, plus pesantes et plus incommodes à porter, à cause de l’espresseur du bois, ce qui rend leur forme auçunement différent des autres; les chordes, dont on les monte et garnit ordinairement sont de fil d’archal, comme celles de l’espinette, et sont arrestées par un bout au dedans du ventre de la harpe sans harpions et sans boutons, et par l’autre bout sont attachées aux chevilles du chevalet.

Pierre Trichet, Traité des Instruments de Musique, c.1640 20

...is da chlarsaich an comhstri
gus am freagradh am balla
do mhac-talla nan organ...

...and two harps in contention, until the walls replied with the echo of their harmony...

Iain Lom, Lament for the Marquis of Huntly, c.1647 21

1650-1700

Ils sont fort curieux do iouer de la harpe, dont ils iouent presque tous.

M. de la Boullaye le Gouz Voyages et Observations, Paris, 1653 22

1654 20 Jan. Came to see my old acquaintance and the most incomparable player on the Irish harp, Mr. Clarke, after his travells. He was an excellent musitian, a discreete gentleman, borne in Devonshire (as I remember). Such musiq before or since did I never heare, that instrument being neglected for its extraordinary difficulty; but in my judgement it is far superior to the Lute itself, or whatever speakes with strings.

1668 Nov 14. ...when dining at the Groom Porters I heard Sir Edw. Sutton play excellently on the Irish harp; he plays genteelly, but not approaching my worthy friend Mr. Clark, a gent. of Northumberland, who makes it exceed lute, viol, and all the harmony an instrument is capable of; pity ’tis that it is not more in use; but indeede to play well takes up the whole man, as Mr. Clark has assur’d me who, tho’ a gent of quality and parts, was yet brought up to that instrument from 5 yeares old, as I remember he told me.

John Evelyn’s diary 23

Quare operæ me prætium facturum existimo, si lyræ formam lectori ob oculos ponam, ne illius memoria gentis excidio, quod nisi Deus obicem ponat iam impendere videtur, innexa obliteretur: cum præsertim efferati quidam excursores in obvias quasque lyras earum procissione, multis in locis immaniter sæviant. Nam illam a cætero terrarum orbe quasi derelictam Hibernia peculiari quodam studio sic amplexa est ut musicam eius in deliciis et ipsam pro insignibus habuerit. Truncus quem lyra pro basi habet e taxo plerumque sive salice est; ima eius pars latior, summa angustior est; postica excavatur, antica dolabra expolitur, quæ frequentibus exiguis foraminibus recta serie a summo ad imum collocatis terebratur. Foramina, æni orbiculi muniunt ne a filis æneis proterantur. Partis autem aversæ hiatu assere obstructo, trunci (qui etiam alvis sive pectus dicitur) collo stipes introrsum sinuata, vertex aut collum appellata infigitur, euius apex suprema convexo palo sive brachio ad extremam trunci partem protenso committitur. Intima stipitis ora cræbris claviculis æneis in læva extremitate perforatis, in dextera angulatis transfigitur; illi extremitati chordarum capita inseruntur; hac cavæ clavi nunc lignum nunc corneum manubrium habente impacta, claviculi girantur et chordæ bacillis inter minora testitudinis foramina e regione posita nodo illigata vel intenduntur vel remittuntur pro Cytharædi arbitrio; grandioribus in trunco foraminibus et utroque chordam laterae, ad excipiendam emittendamque auram, ac bacillos quibus chordæ innectuntur, extrahendos patentibus. Cæterum interiora stipitis inflexæ labra lamina ærea utrinque tegit et eam arcuato palo affabre nectit. Hic demum et illa variis sculpturis concinne decorantur.
Nostra memoria Reverendus admodum pater Robertus Nugentius, qui Societati Jesu per Hiberniam pluresannos summa cum laude præfuit, nova accessiona ab ipso excogitata, non modice lyram ornavit; spatium enim inter truncum et superiores lyrae partes patulum asserculis in cistulæ morem efformatis clausit et foramen in dextero cistæ latere positum exiguo tantum ligneo clathro obstruxit, ut in clavichordiis videmus; tum hinc et illine duplici chordarum ordine collocato, lyram suavissimæ modulationi accomodatissimam fecit.
Porro cytharistæ peritiores et cultiores humeris lyræ cervicem cernui ut plurimum, nonnunquam erecti admoventes, fila œnea extremis digitis, non unguibus pulsant contra consuetudinem ut, aliqui scribunt, lyristis non ita pridem in Hibernia familiarem, quæ nunc vel in desuetudinem abiit, vel a rudioribus lyristis frequentatur, contendentibus, editiorem sonitum e chordis ideo elicere, ut eo domus tota personet.

It may not be a waste of labour, if I can describe accurately for my readers, the form of the harp, in case it should be involved in the universal ruin, which I fear nothing but the hand of God can now avert from my country. This precaution is all the more necessary, as some barbarians in many places vent their fury on every harp they meet, and break it to pieces. For Ireland loved the harp, and when it was banished from almost every other country she clung to it with fonder affection; it was quartered on the national arms, its music was her delight. The soundbox or principal member of the harp is generally of yew or willow; it is broad below, but tapers to the top; the interior is hollow, the front is polished with a plane, and perforated with a great number of small holes from top to bottom. The holes are lined with brass circles to protect them from the pull of the brass strings. The back of the soundbox is closed by a board. From the top of the soundbox (which is also called the breast or belly), an arm extends, curving inwards, called the curve or neck, to the end of which is fixed a convex pillar or arm, stretching down, and fastened to the bottom of the soundbox. Through the sides of the neck run a number of brass pins, which are perforated at their left end, and are angular at the right. To the former the strings are fastened, and by applying to the right end a key with a handle of wood or horn, the brass pins are turned, and the strings, which are fastened below to toggles inside the belly of the harp, under the line of small holes, are tightened or loosened as the harper wishes. At both sides of the strings there are larger holes in the soundbox of the harp, to receive and emit air, and also to allow the toggles to which the strings are fastened, to be changed. The end of the curved neck is coated on both sides with brass plates, which connect it elegantly with the bow-like pillar. The neck and pillar are ornamented with varied and exquisite sculpture.
In my own days, Father Robert Nugent, who, during many years, was with great credit to himself Provincial of the Irish Jesuits, made a very considerable improvement in the harp by an invention of his own. He enclosed the open space between the soundbox and the upper part of the harp with little pieces of wood, and made it like a box; leaving on the right side o the box a soundhole, which he covered with a lattice-work of wood, as used on clavichords. On each side he then arranged a row of strings, and thus increased to a great degree the melodious power of the harp.
The more expert and accomplished performers (who generally bend over the neck of the harp, but occasionally hold it erect), strike the brass strings with the tips of their fingers, not with their nails, contrary to the custom, as some maintain, which not long since was common in Ireland. That custom is now, if not obsolete, at least adopted by ruder performers only, in their anxiety to elicit thereby louder notes from the strings, and make the whole house ring with their melody

Gratianus Lucius (John Lynch), Cambrensis Eversus, 1662 24

The Harp is rather increas’d than diminish’d in repute; and though the Welsh Gut-string formerly gave place to the Irish Wire-string, by reason of the masterly Hands of Mr. John Cob, and Mr. Lewis Williams, now the Spanish Gut-string comes up with it...

Edward Chamberlayne, The present state of England, 168325

15. Music
The Greatest Music is Harp, Pipe, Viol, and Trump. Most part of the Gentry play on the Harp...

A Collection of Highland Rites & Customs, c.1685-90 26

There was O Threicy, with Old Darcy
Playing all Weathers at the Clarsey:
The Irish Harp, whose rusty Mettle,
Sounds like the patching of a Kettle
*Mageen, yea, and be he cou’d play,
Lilly-Boleer, Bulleen a la;
Skipping of *Gort, tripping of Swords,
Frisk of Baldoil best he affords:
And for variety Cronaans,
Ports* and Portrinkes, * and Strin-kans.





 Margery Cree

 Towns in Fingaul.


 *Lessons,
*Jiggs.

James Farewell, The Irish Hudibras or Fingallian, 1689 27

Irish harp
It carries from 40 to 43 single strings (some lately made in England usually 35). Its Body is of Willow (whose belly and sides are of one piece) its Back, Bow and Head of Irish Oak. In England Body Bow and Head Wallnut. Back Oak. This Instrument being tun’d with Brass strings which draw hard by hand must be strengthened by Brass cheeks on each side to which the Pins are fitted to prevent their turning round by the draught of the strings.
Answerable to the number of Pins in the head are the Brass loops in the Belly through which the strings pass from the head and are fastened on the inside by a Noose drawn over a bit of wood.
The Instrument tun’d gradually from the highest Treble to the middle insert then a Unison those two call’d a Wolf the rest arrived gradually thus supposing that in 36 strings the 1st is ggg the last ΓΓ which includes 5 octaves the Wolf shall be about C (if not g).
...

Irish harp
Carries 43 single brass strings. some 40 ... (some 36 at least)
...body of willow (belly and sides of one piece). Back Oak. Bow and Head ditto. in England Body, Bow and Head Wallnut back Oak.
On the Belly a number of brass loops and in the Head Brass Cheeks of each side to prevent pins turning by draught of strings.
In the upper cheek 27 pins in some only one cheek.
Instrument tuned gradually from highest treble to half       in 43 tune 21 gradually afterwards the 22nd is a unison (these two called a Wolf) from them bring the rest up gradually by octaves,
...

James Talbot’s manuscript, c.1690 28

...rìgh, bu shiubhlach ri m’ chluais
an lùthadh le luasgan mheur

Ruaidhrí Dall Mac Mhuirich, Oran do Mhac Leoid Dhun Bheagain, c. 1693 29

1700-1750

The last Part to be done, which was the Action and Pronunciation of the Poem, in Presence of the Mæcenas, or the principal Person it related to, was perform’d with a great deal of Ceremony, in a Consort of Vocal and Instrumental Musick. The Poet himself said nothing, but directed and took care, that every body else did his Part right. The Bards having first had the Composition from him, got it well by Heart, and now pronounc’d it orderly, keeping even Pace with a Harp, touch’d upon that occasion; no other musical instrument being allow’d for the said Purpose than this alone, as being Masculin, much sweeter, and fuller thsn any other. But the Harp, though the chief Ensign and Badge of the Country, is now neglected, and little understood in respect of what it has been, as may be gather’d from the Remark of the above quoted Cambrensis...

Memoirs of the Marquis of Clanricarde, 1722 30

But Drimin dub is still in favour,
since we from Murphy, beg, and crave her,
Of him alone we must require
To do her justice on the Lyre

Lawrence Whyte, A Dissertation on Italian and Irish Music, c.1730s 31

As to the harp playing, said County could well bragg of having the chiefest Master of that Instrument in the Kingdom in his time. Mr. Nic: Pierce of Clenmaurice not only for his singular capacity of composing Lamentations funeral additions and Elevations, etc. but also by compleating said Instrument with more wires than ever before his time were used.

[Sullivan], History of Kerry, mid 18th century 32

1750-1800

Friday 15th October, [1773].
Col told us, that O’Kane, the famous Irish harper, was once at that gentleman’s house. He could not find it in his heart to give him any money, but gave him a key for a harp, which was finely ornamented with gold and silver, and with a precious stone, and was worth eighty or a hundred guineas. He did not know the value of it; and when he came to know it, he would have fain have it back; but O’Kane took care that he should not... Col said, the gentleman’s relations were angry at his giving away the harp-key, for it had been long in the family.

James Boswell, Journal of a tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, 1785 33

In the family of every chief, or head of a clan, the Bard was a very considerable person: His office, upon solemn feasts, was to sing or rehearse the splendid actions of the heroes, ancestors of the family, which he accompanied with the harp. At this time, too, there were itinerant or strolling minstrels, performers on the harp, who went about the country, from house to house, upon solemn occasions, reciting heroic ballads, and other popular episodes.
...
The last of these strolling harpers was Rory or Roderick Dall, who, about fifty years ago, was well known and much caressed by the Highland gentry, whose houses he frequented. His chief residence was about Blair in Athole and Dunkeld. He was esteemed a good composer, and a fine performer on the harp, to which he sung in a pathetic manner. Many of his songs are preserved in that country.
...
To the wandering harpers we are certainly indebted for that species of music which is now scarcely known, I mean, the Port. Almost every great family had a Port that went by the name of that family. Of the few that are still preserved are, Port Lennox, Port Gordon, Port Seton, and Port Athole. which are all of them excellent in their kind. The Port is not of the martial strain of the march, as some have conjectured; those above named being all in the plaintive strain, and modulated for the harp.

William Tytler, Dissertation on the Scottish Music, 1783 34

When Donogh, son to Brian Boroimhe was, after a long struggle for the sovereignty, obliged to quit Ireland in 1064, he took with him to Rome, the crown, and, according to tradition, the other regalia and presented them to the pope. Amongst other things the royal harp, supposed to be played on the day of the battle of Clontarf. This harp lay in the Vatican till Innocent 11th (1678) sent it as a token of his good will to Chas 2d, who had it deposited in the Tower. Soon after this the Earl of Clanricard seeing it among the curiosities, mentd to the king that he knew an Irish nobleman that wd probably give a limb of his estate for it, (meaning the Earl of Thomond) on which his Majesty immedly replied, I make you a present of it, dispose of it as you please. Lord C brought it to Ireland, and Lord Thomond being on his travels never was possd of it. Some years after it was purchased by Ldy Huxley for 20 Rams and as many loaves of English bread, and bestowed by her to her Son in law Hy Macmahon of Clamagh in the Cy of Clare, who about the year 1756, bestowed it to Mat Macnamara of Limk esq coun at law, and some years recorder of that city, a most worthy, learned polite and hospitable man. When given to Coun Macnamara it had silver strings and some more ornaments of plate than are now to be seen. They were stolen or destroyed by servants or idle people fiddling withal, as was also a letter from Mr Macnamara giving a full and particular history of said harp. It was left as a token of esteem by Coun Macnamara, who died in 177[] to R.O of Dublin C.G. esq an admirer of antiquity, and by him presented, in 1781, to the Rt Hon W. Conyngham esq. whose taste for the fine arts with the pains and expense he has taken to improve them, as well as the fisheries and other national objects, deserves the highest encomiums. Oct 22nd 1783. Drummond House.

Ralph Ousely, letter, 1783 35

1800-1850

Ich. Begleitete Ossian seine Gedichte mit Instrumentalmusick? Und bediente man sich noch in Ihren jüngeren Jahren der harfe, oder des Instruments, welches die Barden gewöhnlich gebrauchten?

H.M. Man sagt, er habe seinen Gesang mit der harfe begleitet. Ich habe O:Kain, einen alten Harfner, gekannt, der zu einer harfe sang, die er für die alte Galische, oder Irische harfe ausgab; allein ich glaube nicht, daß es unser altes Nationalinstrument war. Ich kann Ihnen aber nichts gewisses davon sagen, weil ich mich nie um die Instrumentalmusik bekümmert habe.

I: Did Ossian accompany his poems with instrumental music? And did people use, in your younger years, the harp, or instruments which the bards traditionally used?

H.M.: It is said, that he accompanied his singing with the harp. I have known O’Kane, an old harper, who sang to a harp, which he said was the old Gaelic or Irish harp; only I do not think, that it was our old national instrument. However I can tell you nothing certain about this, because I never bothered about instrumental music.

D.W. Soltau, Reise durch Schottland, 1808 36

One night my father, James Mackintosh, said to Lude, that he would be happy to hear him play upon the harp, (which at that time began to give place to the violin);- after supper, Lude and James Mackintosh retired to another room, in which there were a couple of harps; one of which belonged to Queen Mary. James, says Lude, here are two harps, the largest one is the loudest, but the small one is the sweetest;- which do you wish to hear played? James answered, the small one;- which Lude took up, and played upon it till day light.

Donald Macintosh, Collection of Gaelic Proverbs, 1819 37


References

1. Latin edition: J.F. Dimock, Giraldi Cambrensis opera, vol. 5, London, 1867. Translation: John O’Meara, Gerald of Wales. The history and topography of Ireland, Penguin, 1982^

2. The poem survives in the Book of O’Conor Don, c. 1631. Published by Paul Walsh, Gleanings from Irish manuscripts, Dublin, 1933. Translation and commentary in Eugene O’Curry, On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, vol 3, London, 1873^

3. Online CELT edition & translation, 2012. ^

4. Alan J. Fletcher Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c.1642 D. S. Brewer, 2000, p.172-3 ^

5. Alan J. Fletcher Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c.1642 D. S. Brewer, 2000, p.176 ^

6. Vincenzo Galilei, Dialogo della Musica Antica et della Moderna, 1581. Translated by Claude Palisca, Dialogue on Ancient and Modern Music, Yale University Press, 2003 ^

7. John Derrick, The Image of Ireland London, 1581 ^

8. George Buchanan, Rerum Scoticarum Historia, 1582 ^

9. Alan J. Fletcher Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c.1642 D. S. Brewer, 2000, p.179 ^

10. John Monipennie, Certaine matters composed together, Edinburgh [1594] ^

11. Alexander Hume, A treatise of the felicitie, Edinburgh, 1594 ^

12. Alan J. Fletcher Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c.1642 D. S. Brewer, 2000, p.174 ^

13. Seán Donnelly, ‘The Irish harp in England 1590-1690’, Ceol VII, Devember 1984 ^

14. Translated by David Crookes, Syntagma Musicum II: De Organographia parts I and II, Oxford University Press, 1986. ^

15. Alan J. Fletcher Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c.1642 D. S. Brewer, 2000, p.407 ^

16. Alan J. Fletcher Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c.1642 D. S. Brewer, 2000, p.193. See also Nicholas Carolan, ‘Philip O’Sullivan Beare on Irish Music’, Éigse Ceol Tíre vols 5-6, 1986-2001 ^

17. Spalding, Ellis & Heath (eds), The Works of Francis Bacon, vol II, London 1859 ^

18. This poem was printed from manuscripts in the RIA by Patrick Dindeen, Dánta Phiarais Feiritéir, 1903. Reprinted with translation by Pat Muldowney, Dánta Phiarais Feiritéir, Aubane 1999 p.42-5 ^

19. Seán Donnelly, ‘The Irish harp in England 1590-1690’, Ceol VII, Devember 1984 ^

20. François Lesure (ed) Pierre Trichet, Traité des Instruments de Musique, Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1957 ^

21. Keith Sanger & Alison Kinnaird, Tree of strings, Temple 1992, p.128 ^

22. Alan J. Fletcher Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c.1642 D. S. Brewer, 2000, p.484 ^

23. William Bray (ed), The Diary of John Evelyn Esquire F.R.S. London, [1818] ^

24. Matthew Kelly (ed & trans), Cambrensis Eversus, Dublin, 1848, p.308-321 ^

25. Edward Chamberlayne, The present state of England, 1683, p.91 ^

26. Manuscript associated with Robert Boyle, published in Michael Hunter (ed), The occult laboratory: magic, science, and second sight in late seventeenth century Scotland Woodbridge 2001, p.63 ^

27. James Farewell, The Irish Hudibras or Fingallian, 1689 p.103 ^

28. Oxford, Christ Church Music Ms 1187. Transcription and discussion in Joan Rimmer, ‘James Talbot's Manuscript: Harps c. 1690’ Galpin Society Journal 16, 1963 ^

29. William Matheson, The Blind Harper, SGTS 1970 ^

30. Memoirs of the Right Honourable the Marquis of Clanricarde, Lord Deputy General of Ireland. James Woodman, London, 1722, p.clxx ^

31. Extracts and discussion in Nicholas Carolan (ed), John and William Neal, A Collection of the most Celebrated Irish Tunes, ITMA, Dublin, 2010, p.9 ^

32. Alan J. Fletcher Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c.1642 D. S. Brewer, 2000, p.489 ^

33. R.W. Chapman (ed), Johnson’s Journey to the Western isles of Scotland, and Boswell’s Journal of a tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, Oxford 1924 ^

34. The Dissertation on Scottish Music appeared in a number of books in the late 18th century. The different printings vary somewhat; the first instance I have seen is anonymous, and does not include the passage quoted on the harp; it is appendix VIII of Hugo Arnot, The History of Edinburgh, Edinburgh 1779. The earliest I have seen with the harp descriptions is anonymous, in Poetical Remains of James the First, King of Scotland. Edinburgh, 1783; it is again anonymous in William Napier, A selection of the most favourite Scots-songs chiefly pastoral, London [1790]; the first printing of it attributed to Tytler I have seen is in Archaeologia Scotica, vol. 1, Edinburgh, 1792 p.469. ^

35. manuscript copy by W. Hardiman, 1820. Bl ms Egerton 74, f184. ^

36. Dietrich Wilhelm Soltau, Reise durch Schottland, seine Inseln, Dänemark und einen Theil von Deutschland. Aus der Englischen Handschrift übersetzt. Leipzig: Georg Joachim Göschen, 1808. vol 3, p.215-6. Commentary and translation in Keith Sanger & Alison Kinnaird, Tree of strings, Temple 1992, p.159. ^

37. Donald Macintosh, Mackintosh’s Collection of Gaelic Proverbs, Edinburgh, 1819. John Robertson died c.1730, so this anecdote must predate that. ^